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Title: Difference
Fandom: Mass Effect
Pairing: Garrus/Fem!Shepard
Rating: G
Word Count: 963
Warnings: Slight sociological undertones, em-dash abuse

Garrus has never understood humans—he’s not foolish enough to kid himself into thinking he does. The way they do things, purely through sight and touch, is almost laughably simplistic and yet it’s the culture—how they act and how they function—that is inconceivably complex. They don’t hold themselves to one standard—not unified in their execution like the turians. And yet, the two species are alike in ways—methodical and in what is considered attractive.

Except when they aren’t. The continuous high-pitched buzzing that fills the room is a testament to that.

The first time he saw her with clippers in her hand, he was more alarmed than curious.

What are you doing? he’d wanted to scream. You take away that which makes you beautiful! He didn’t act upon this impulse, of course—he wouldn’t question his commanding officer’s actions so blatantly—but he couldn’t help but feel a sense of loss as the razor’s edge touched her scalp, slanting across the base of the hair, dark brown locks falling to the floor. But did such a thing truly make her beautiful? Both their cultures seemed to think so. Turians, by nature, could not trim their fringe—merely an extension of cartilage—and the longer it was, the more prestige and rank was normally accorded to the individual. He knew it was not exactly the same way with humans, but so often was their hair considered attractive to others, both to their own and other species.

“Does it disturb you?” she had asked.

He stood there awkwardly, not sure what to say. Would he accidentally offend her if he said yes? Give her a sense of disappointment if he said no? With Shepard, he could never tell—couldn’t read her emotions, she kept them so closely guarded.

“It is...different,” was what he decided to settle on. “We don’t do such a thing. It’s what makes the individual.”

“Does it?” she asked. “Or is it only what your culture deems to be so?”

He wasn’t sure what to make of that. Yes, it was true that such was only attractive because his species deemed it so—like a bird of brightly-colored plumage. He hadn’t questioned it before, hadn’t had the need to. It was a competitive advantage, he supposed, whether it was conscious or not for his species, but...

The last lock of hair fell to the floor and she turned the clippers off, palms smoothing over the skin of her scalp, loose pieces of hair joining in with the already dancing dust particles seen in the glaring florescent lighting.

Garrus was unsure of the new look—it was primal, almost, a state that every human began in, just scalp, skin, and bone. The texture was radically different than what he had seen on her before, straight and spiky, instead of flowing with the wind.

“You find this attractive?”

The words were blunt—harsher than he originally intended them to be—and he wished he could take them back. But Shepard seemed unfazed as she dusted off the back of her neck.

“Does it matter?”

She turned from the mirror, and looked at him, perhaps she reading the confusion—the shock—in his features.

“Think of it as...tactical advantage, Garrus. You can understand that, can’t you?”

“Yes, but...it’s not something I’m used to. I do not understand why you go against your expected standards as a human.”

A smile played on her lips, her cheek twitching slightly in amusement.

“Next time, you shall.”

He can feel the clippers vibrate in his hand, and he seems almost hesitant to do anything with them.

“Are you sure about this, Shepard?” he asks, looking at her over the top of her head, both their reflections staring unblinkingly back at him.

Her answer is curt and to the point.


Her hair is much shorter than the last time she did this, so when he puts the clippers to the base of her scalp and pulls back, there is little resistance. He supposes, perhaps, she chose this particular time to make him do this—made it easier for him in both the physical and mental aspects.

It disconcerts him each time he sees a new line of scalp—seeing this done by his own hand—and so she speaks.

“Some cultures, even some religions,” she begins, “in the human species believe that hair is a sign of vanity—that it’s a sin to indulge in such a thing. Others believe it is more materialistic, that it is inner beauty that one should find attractive.”

She picks up a cluster of hair, turns it over in her palm, watching the strands separate and blow away.

“We are such petty creatures. It’s beautiful on the head, but once it has been removed, it is considered disgusting; merely trash to be thrown away.”

He thinks of Thane, who hides away as when he sheds his skin. Drell custom, he had thought, nothing to be concerned about. But then, looking back on it, Garrus never did see those shedded skins. What he once thought was perhaps a religious purpose, was maybe a reason that was just that simple—that to see that ghostly shell was a disgrace; something meant to be revolting and abhorred.

A three-fingered hand runs over the freshly-cut hair, and he feels it prickle under the cloth of his glove, but it doesn’t hurt—is almost ticklish, even. It strikes him then, just how much trust Shepard put into him—that the act was just so intimate. And he supposes, looking down at the skin of his commander, noticing freckles and blemishes that were once hidden to the world, that maybe beauty is, perhaps, in the eye of the beholder.
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May 2014


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